Wednesday, July 28, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
As the only first-year coach in attendance at Tuesday's Mountain West Conference football media day at Red Rock Resort, Bobby Hauck appeared anything but nervous.
A week from Friday, when he opens his first fall camp as UNLV's head coach, don't expect that demeanor to change.
"I'm not the real nervous type," said Hauck, who inherited a program that hasn't enjoyed a winning season since 2000. "I try not to be. I'm looking forward to it. The challenge and the competitive part of this is why you do it.
"I'm a lot more relaxed than I was the first time I did this. The first time was hard. You're sitting in that chair for the first time; you're making the decisions for the first time. This time, it's a lot more relaxing. It's a lot easier to have confidence in your system and structure knowing that it works."
Hauck's coaching chops are far from being in question, following his successful tenure at FCS power Montana.
But if the league's preseason poll released to start the day is any indication, Hauck will have plenty of challenges ahead.
The combination of a schedule that features nine bowl teams from a year ago and the implementation of a new offense with personnel largely accustomed to running the spread contributed to the Rebels landing eighth in the nine-team poll.
Predictably, the top of the heap featured defending champ TCU, which took in all 31 media votes.
However, for a predicted eighth-place team, there was plenty for Hauck to talk about surrounding his program.
The most recent headline involving UNLV centered on former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who was dismissed after leading the Ducks to back-to-back 10-3 seasons and a Rose Bowl appearance due to legal troubles, including charges of burglary and marijuana possession.
The Rebels were reported last week to be one program potentially courting Masoli, who has one year of eligibility remaining and can play right away wherever he goes.
In his first public comment since the story surfaced, Hauck shot those rumors down.
"I can tell you right now that I haven't talked to anybody about transferring," he said.
Instead, Hauck is focusing on the quarterbacks he currently has to work with, including senior Omar Clayton, junior Mike Clausen and redshirt freshman Caleb Herring.
"So all of us can quit discussing every day who the quarterback is going to be, I'd like to name a starter," he said. "But I'm not a believer that you can force that decision. I think it has to kind of happen. Somebody needs to take the job, and I would assume that would happen in the first couple of weeks, I hope."
Hauck didn't show his hand that much on the topic except to say that it might be tough for Herring to overcome the experience deficit he has behind Clayton and Clausen, but he did agree that, somewhere in the mix, he has someone who can get the job done in what will be a hybrid offense of sorts.
The race promises to be intriguing. Clayton was the starter for most of the last two seasons — both 5-7 campaigns — but battled injuries consistently along the way. Clausen filled in admirably behind him and may be the stronger runner but hasn't been quite as efficient a passer as Clayton. As for Herring, he's undoubtedly the Rebels' quarterback of the future, but more than likely has another year of biding his time before taking the reins.
"We've got spread people, and by recruiting, it would be crazy for us to not have some spread concepts in our offense," Hauck added. "We're just going to try to do whatever we can to get a win. The aesthetics of it are not going to be important, nor should they ever be."
UNLV's questions entering the 2010 season, of course, aren't just limited to the game's headlining position.
When asked what his biggest focuses will be with a new group of players heading into camp, the first answer was obvious.
"I think the first part has to be to improve on defense," he said. "We can't be ranked 110th or whatever it is on defense and expect to be a good football team."
Numbers and rankings, however, are things that Hauck is hoping outsiders won't use to judge his program's performance in his first year at the helm.
Even if UNLV does simply live up to the eighth place prognostication, he's wanting those critics to dig a little deeper.
"I like the investment, so to speak, our guys have made," he said. "My biggest concern is that the schedule is so demanding, that the effort and commitment and improvement doesn't show up in the win column. That's my biggest concern, because I think we've improved in every area since Day One."
Players attest to the Hauck difference
UNLV's two player representatives at MWC media days, which wrap up on Wednesday, are senior center John Gianninoto and senior linebacker Ronnie Paulo.
Both agreed repeatedly that Hauck has already made an impression and changed the culture of the program.
"The first day that he came in and talked to us, he came in, put down the law, said a couple of choice words and we all knew that he meant business," Gianninoto said. "We all bought in, and it's going to turn out good for us, I believe."
The rest of the poll
Hauck joked in a radio interview on Tuesday that the Rebels garnered as many first-place votes in the preseason media poll as Utah and BYU.
Well, he wasn't lying.
Behind TCU as the unanimous preseason favorite, in order, are Utah, BYU, Air Force, Wyoming, San Diego State, Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico.
Payne an All-MWC honoree
The voting media did at least bestow some honor on the Rebels, tapping junior receiver Phillip Payne as a member of the preseason All-MWC team.
Payne, a 6-foot-3 red zone specialist from Western High, caught 87 passes for 1,097 yards and 14 TDs in his first two seasons at UNLV, which included 21 games played.
Despite a more balanced offense under Hauck, the first-year coach will expect plenty out of Payne, including consistent support in run-blocking.
That technically applies to everyone in the skill positions, he said, as not blocking will result in not playing.
"It's kind of like the preseason predictions on the finish of the team: It's nice to be selected, but for Phil, personally, and our football team, he needs to live up to that preseason ranking," Hauck said. "Great for him, but now let's be that guy at the end of the year."
Situated at the entrance to Red Rock Canyon and minutes from the world-renowned Las Vegas Strip, Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa offers five-star luxury in a modern property, built in 2006.
The casino features features 3,000 slot and video poker machines, 60 table games including blackjack, baccarat, craps, poker, roulette, a 206-seat Race and Sports Book with a 96-foot video wall a 20-table smoke-free poker room open 24 hours a day, a 600-seat bingo hall with separate smoking and non-smoking sections, open 7 days a week with sessions running every other hour from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., a 20-seat keno lounge and a private high-limit room.
A recipient of the AAA Four Diamond Award since opening and named one of the world's best new hotels by Conde Nast Traveler magazine, Red Rock redefines casino resort architecture by incorporating natural light, a convenient layout and the comforts of a modern lifestyle.
The centerpiece of the property is the three-acre pool complex with 19 cabanas and swim-up gaming. Its location allows for balcony views from several of the property's restaurants and Cherry Nightclub. Aside from Cherry, guests can grab a drink at Onyx or Lucky or listen to live music in Rocks Lounge.
Dining spans the globe at Red Rock with more than 10 restaurants, including the Italian food of Terra Rossa, the Japanese fusion of Hachi, the Mexican spices at Cabo Cantina or a bit of everything at the Feast Buffet.
Unlike some resorts in town, Red Rock has activities for the whole family, such as a 16-screen movie theater and an arcade. The 72-lane bowling center features a VIP area and carpet that glows in the dark for after hours at Cosmic Bowling.